Canada has a long monarchical tradition, beginning with the chief leadership of Aboriginal groups, the rule of French monarchs in New France, and British monarchs in Canada. This article presents Canada's monarchal traditions and institutions: it discusses the concept of monarchy, its history in Canada, its relationship with other governmental institutions, the profile of the current monarchy, as well as the debates and issues facing the monarchy in Canada.
Monarchy as a Form of Government
A monarchy is one of the oldest forms of government in history. In general, a monarchy is a government in which a single person rules. The term monarchy is derived from the Greek words monos (or “one”) and archein (or “to rule”). We can distinguish monarchies from other forms of government, such as oligarchies (rule by the few) and democracies (rule by the many).
A “monarch” refers to the head of state or ruler of a monarchy. While there are no absolute rules, there are several characteristics of monarchies:
Most monarchs hold office for life. Once a monarch enters into office, s/he cannot be removed from rule (except under very rare circumstances or revolt). A monarch, however, may voluntarily choose to renounce his/her position voluntarily in a process called “abdication.”
Most monarchs are succeeded, upon death or abdication, by members of their own family (often the eldest child). Stable monarchies have a long legacy of rule by a single-family lineage or bloodline.
Most monarchs hold traditional titles such as "King," "Queen," "Emperor,” or "Empress."
Absolute versus Constitutional Monarchies
Historically, the monarchy as a system of government has evolved from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. In an absolute monarchy the monarch has complete power over his/her dominions, with no laws or opposition groups to limit the monarch's decisions or actions. This form of monarchical government was most evident throughout the world up until the 18th century. Some absolute monarchies are still present today, such as those of Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Oman, Swaziland, and the Vatican City. The monarchs of Jordan and Morocco continue to hold considerable power (albeit not absolute power).
Beginning in the 16th century, the idea of popular sovereignty (or rule by the people) began to challenge absolute monarchies, especially in Europe. This tension came to a head during two important revolutions, the American Revolution (1775) and the French Revolution (1789), which were democratic movements against the power of the British and French monarchs, respectively. During this period many European monarchical governments evolved into constitutional monarchies. Under this form of government the monarch is still recognized as the head of state, however, there are substantial constitutional restraints on his/her power. Most modern constitutional monarchies have strong representative democracies in which power lies with an elected legislative body (i.e., Parliament) and elected leader (i.e., Prime Minister). The monarch is often just a symbolic figure with no real power to influence political decision-making. Today, constitutional monarchies exist in the United Kingdom, Canada, ...